Gut health is the wellness buzzword of the moment: everyone’s Instagramming kombucha, taking fancy probiotics, and ordering a side of sauerkraut at brunch. But what’s the big deal? If your gut feels fine, do you really need to worry?
Turns out, it’s becoming more and more apparent that gut health is the key to your entire physical, emotional and mental wellbeing (says science, not just the ‘Gram). Brand new integrative medicine clinic River Tree Health in West End is one of the only medical practices in Australia with practitioners dedicated to gut health analysis, so who better to help us break it down for you?
Here’s 12 things you need to know about your gut health:
#1. There are 50 trillion types of flora (yup, that’s a lot) in your intestine, and everyone’s combination is unique. Think of it like this: in a garden, if one plant starts dominating, it will rob the others of their nutrients and they’ll die. Imbalanced bacteria can also push through the gut lining and enter your bloodstream (called a “leaky gut”), causing major internal inflammation. Yikes.
#2. An imbalanced gut won’t just cause digestive issues, it can wreak havoc with your overall health. We’re talking energy, your immunity, protection from food allergies and intolerances, your memory and mental health. An out of whack gut can also affect the way your body naturally detoxifies, can negatively impact autoimmune disorders, joint health, digestion, physical growth, exercise performance and recovery, weight loss ability, and much more.
#3. Your gut is known as the “second brain”, with a direct link between gut health and mental health. Those pesky bacteria from a leaky gut can actually penetrate the blood/brain barrier, causing depression, anxiety and even dementia and Alzheimer’s in later life. Even if you aren’t anxious or depressed, you can experience a feeling of being burnt out, foggy-headed or just flat.
#4. The main culprit when it comes to gut imbalance? Inflammatory foods in a processed diet: namely, sugar, gluten and trans fats (put simply, cinnamon doughnuts are not your gut’s friend *weep*). Add more veggies (they feed good flora), reduce refined sugar (it feeds bad flora), don’t be fooled by “healthy” processed foods, and incorporate fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir and kombucha, plus bone broth for healing. It’s been proven that within just two days of changing our diet, our gut species will begin to change—how cool is that!
#5. Also disruptive to your gut are meds like the contraceptive pill, antibiotics, and even over-the-counter pills like paracetamol. “Integrative medicine isn’t about not using meds, they can be necessary,” says Michelle from River Tree Health. “You just need to make sure you’re aware of their effects and healing them at the same time.”
#6. We can often dismiss stress as having a “notable” effect on our health, but the stress hormone cortisol has a huge physical impact on the gut. This can also cause sleep issues, given melotonin (your sleep hormone) and serotonin (happiness hormone) are made in the gut. Stress + imbalanced gut = hello, insomnia and bad moods.
#7. Struggling to lose weight? If insulin and cortisol are out of whack, you’ll store fat; not to mention certain bacteria feed on sugar and cause sugar cravings. “Unhealthy flora scream out for sugar,” says Michelle. (We knew our 3pm sugar cravings weren’t our fault…)
#8. Feeling out of sorts? Here are some symptoms to look for: feeling foggy or flat, bad skin, coating on your tongue, white specks on nails, bad breath, sore joints, excess weight around your middle that you can’t get rid of, developing food intolerances you didn’t have before, constipation and digestive issues. “Basically, anything involving inflammation,” says Michelle.
#9. As well as a healthy, plant-based diet, managing meds intake and reducing stress, River Tree Health recommends upping your exercise, especially outside—or even just getting out into the sunshine and nature to absorb Vitamin D. Having pets around you is also a super-effective (and cute!) way of upping your general wellbeing levels and bringing balance to your mind and body.
#10. Just eating well may not be enough to heal your gut. It’s a great first step, but if you have a leaky gut, it’s going to be an uphill battle: you can’t absorb nutrients properly and you’re riddled with sugar cravings. Great news: once you do a proper gut reset, you’ll naturally start eating healthier like it ain’t no thang.
#11. So what about probiotics? Although they can be helpful, because everyone’s gut flora is unique and there are so many brands on the market, they might not be properly addressing your own individual issues. “If you’re serious about fixing your gut health, it’s much better to do pathology testing and figure out your own gut status rather than just throwing money around on expensive probiotics that may not be right for you,” says Michelle.
#12. A complete gut health overhaul at River Tree Health could solve multiple issues that you (or your doctor) have never been quite able to nail in the past. Because everyone’s combination of gut flora is unique, once they’ve done some tests there’s a different plan for everyone, which could include traditional meds (even antibiotics to start with depending on the initial state of your gut) plus include pro- and pre-biotics, diet changes, naturopathic remedies, lifestyle advice, nutritional supplements and psychological support.
Fixing your gut is a different way of approaching your health than what you’ve likely been doing up until now: instead of waiting until you’re sick and then taking something to suppress the symptoms, a healthy gut is about creating an environment where all your body’s systems can work as they should to have you not just feeling good, but next-level great.
River Tree Health is giving The Urban List readers an exclusive 15% off their Integrative Medicine programmes–just mention this promo when booking.
Image credit: Hayley Williamson
Editor's note: This article was produced in partnership with River Tree Health. Thank you for supporting the sponsors who make The Urban List possible. For more information on our editorial policy, click here.